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Covid-19: Public Security

Volume 677: debated on Wednesday 24 June 2020

What steps his Department has taken to help protect the security of the public in Northern Ireland during the covid-19 outbreak. (903603)

I maintain close contact with the Northern Ireland Executive’s Justice Minister and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Public safety obviously remains at the forefront of the PSNI’s efforts, and thanks to its dedication during this period, public safety has not been compromised. By working closely with and financially supporting the Executive, we have worked together to protect our hospitals and frontline responders and maintained essential public and emergency services.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he join me in commending all those involved in maintaining public safety in Northern Ireland for their commitment and efforts during the unprecedented and difficult circumstances of the past few months?

Absolutely. I have had the great honour and pleasure over the past few weeks of being able to meet some of the teams in the ambulance service and the PSNI, who have been working through the covid period in some very difficult circumstances, having to prepare themselves to go out to work to keep people safe and healthy. We owe them all a huge debt of thanks for the amazing work they have done over this period to keep people safe and healthy; I absolutely join my hon. Friend in welcoming that.

Of course, keeping people safe in Northern Ireland should always be the priority. However, that has not always been the case. In 1981, Paul Whitters, aged 15, was killed in Derry, and Julie Livingstone, aged 14, was killed in Belfast. Both were killed with plastic bullets. The files relating to their deaths have been reclassified and withheld until 2059 and 2064 respectively. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is no good reason to keep those files closed, and will he now act to allow the parents of those children to see the files?

I have enormous sympathy for those families who lost loved ones—especially children, which is a tragedy—during the troubles. The files mentioned by the hon. Member are currently held by the National Archives and were closed to protect the privacy, health and safety of individuals named in those files. A freedom of information request to the National Archives is the most appropriate next step to enable a full independent review of the files. Such a request can be made by anyone, including the hon. Member, and my Department would provide any necessary assistance to the National Archives if such a request were received.